Recently, I have had the occasion to relearn some of my early learnings about addiction.
I first came face-to-face with the issue of alcoholism/addiction when I was sharing a home with a group of women and our children back in the 1970’s. I was a practicing psychotherapist and had had a whole three hours on addiction so, like others at that time, assumed I knew something about addiction.
As our household became more and more dysfunctional, I tried to put my finger on what was “wrong.” Slowly, I became conscious of my discomfort when one of the women in our household ordered a second cocktail, had to have a beer before she cooked and had such fits of anger that I felt that I had to take a shower to “get the poison” off after one of her outbursts. So, one day when I was coming out of the bathroom and she was coming in (I thought I had the upper hand), I blurted out – “I think you’re an alcoholic!”
She looked at me – shocked – and then said, “I think you are right.”
I had no idea what to do next so I called friends in Minnesota – which I considered the addiction capitol of the world and they said, “send her to treatment.” I arranged for her to go to treatment and she then, on the treatment center’s recommendation, went to a half-way house for six months. When I visited her there, her colleagues quickly zeroed in on me and labeled me a “normie.” Somehow, when they said “normie,” it did not seem like a good thing at all.
The treatment center told me right off that I was an “enabler” and the way their lips curled, I knew that they were not complimenting me. This labeling was followed by “and you are as sick as she is!”
Well! We would see about that! I was the “most functional one in the household!!!” or so I thought.
I had not learned yet about addiction being the most dangerous contagious disease threatening our society. Right then, right there, I decided that I definitely did not want to be an “enabler.”
“Everyone associated with her has been infected by this disease,” they said.
It sounded much worse than mumps and measles, which I had had.
Why had I never seen any quarantine signs on houses where addiction was present like I had for these others when I was a child?
Being curious, motivated, and “a good camper,” I decided (no control here) that everyone must be infected and needed to go to family treatment.
I told everyone in the house – women and children – that we all had to go to treatment. I asked my ex-husband if he would come (he said “yes”). I invited my secretary and her two children. Then, I realized that – through me – my clients were probably infected so I invited each and every one in my private practice to come if they wanted – just in case.
I had learned about infectious diseases in my bacteriology class as a pre-med. Yet, this was another level of “infection” all together.
We ended up with thirteen people. No treatment center would take us so we hired a staff to come to us, rented a motel, and “went through family treatment.”
I was darn sure that I was going to find out what an enabler was and – I WAS NOT GOING TO BE ONE!!!
I learned a lot in that one week and it was a half of a drop in a very big bucket.
When “our alcoholic” (co-dependents own everything, don’t they?) came home from treatment, I vowed not to enable her.
My heavens! What an ordeal that was!!
She did not like to cook and would not if she could help it. Our agreement was that everyone in the house (the adults) cooked at least one meal a week. She was so mean on her night to cook, that I heard the kids saying to her – “Drink a beer. You’re nicer then.”
When someone else cooked, she came in and “tasted everything” and ate the leftovers.
I stopped cooking – because I refused to enable. The kids complained about not being fed.
I told her that she could not eat when I cooked, which went against everything I had been taught and believed in.
Preparing the meals became a nightmare.
After several weeks of misery, I finally “got it.” I WAS POWERLESS OVER ENABLING HER.
An alcoholic can turn anything I/we do into enabling and we are powerless to stop it.
Very powerfully – very early on – I got the meaning of powerlessness.
There was no way I could control what an addict does with what I do and the way I normally live my life.
I suddenly realized what it was like when the foreigners came.
My ancestors were a loving, giving, open-minded people. Those who wish can and do use that to enable their TMM (Technological, Mechanistic, Materialistic) disease.
We/they are damned if we do and we are damned if we don’t.
The only thing we can do is live who we are authentically and “get off the co-dependent dualism” of being used or distorting ourselves, which is always difficult.
This lesson in powerlessness has been so powerful for me in living my life.
I am really powerless in what others think about or will do with who I am.
All I have to do is be who I am and they will have to deal with it – – – OR NOT!